State-of-the-Art Technology and Quick Intervention Saves Limbs and Lives
COCONUT CREEK, FL. – 59-year-old Margate, Florida resident Gerald Cunha recently became a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) statistic and is lucky to be alive. Cuhna developed a two and half foot long blood clot that started below his knee, ran all the way up his leg, wrapped into his abdomen and up to the level of his belly button.
Cunha says, “They basically told me to go home and put my affairs in order. It was very frightening.”
Cunha is a classic case of DVT waiting to happen. When his right leg began swelling, his primary care doctor diagnosed a blood clot behind the knee and prescribed an oral blood thinner to prevent the clot from getting bigger and potentially going into his lungs. It didn’t work. Within days his leg blew up three times its normal size and the pain was excruciating.
Warren Swee, MD, MPH a board certified, Interventional Radiologist at South Florida Vascular Associates discovered that the clot had extended all the way up the leg and into the pelvis, measuring almost 2 ½ feet long.
Dr. Swee says this type of DVT is rare. “We only see this once every few months, if that. “ If left untreated, or treatment is unsuccessful, it could result in post thrombotic syndrome (PTS) in which the valves in the legs are damaged from the clot causing permanent disability. “There is also risk of a piece of the clot breaking off and traveling to the lungs that can cause a pulmonary embolism, which can be life-threatening,” said Dr. Swee.
“I put my affairs in order and wrote a farewell letter to my wife just in case something went wrong. It was surreal,” said Cunha.
Since the blood clot was so massive, and previous oral blood thinner medications failed, the best way to dissolve the clot and save Cunha's leg was to use a device called the EKOS Ultrasound Catheter.
Here’s how this state-of-the-art, minimally invasive device works.
Performed in a hospital Endovascular Lab, the EKOS catheter is inserted behind the knee and threaded through the clot. It uses ultrasonic energy to deliver clot busting drugs like TPA directly to the clot, causing it to break-up and dissolve like a melting ice cube, restoring blood flow much more quickly. In many cases, if the clot is less than 2 weeks old, it takes only 12-14 hours to dissolve, but in Cunha’s case, the clot was 5 weeks old and so massive that it took 2 days. Remarkably, soon after treatment, Cunha's debilitating leg pain and swelling resolved allowing him walk normally and finally return back to work.
Dr. Swee, a DVT specialist says, “Unfortunately, many people are not aware of this technology and should because it saves limbs and lives. EKOS state-of-the art technology offers significant benefits over other methods for DVT treatment. It’s faster, reduces the risk of post thrombotic syndrome, and requires less clot busting medication greatly reducing the risk of bleeding complications such as brain bleeds.”
Based on U.S. statistics, up to 600,000 people develop DVT each year with an estimate of over 100,000 pulmonary embolism deaths each year in the U.S.
Dr. Swee says, “The number of DVT cases is concerning. There’s a vital need to make people aware of the risk factors and how to prevent it and recognize early warning signs. That’s the only way we can reduce these staggering statistics.”
Obesity, lack of exercise, smoking, sitting too long at our desks or during long commutes; birth control pills and being over age 40 are the biggest risk factors.
As a restaurant supply sales person, Cunha spends long hours behind the wheel of his car, is overweight and was a smoker.
This experience was a real wake-up call and a great learning experience for Cunha. He quit smoking, is exercising, eating healthy and even gets out of his car when he’s been sitting too long to stretch his legs and walk around.“I’ve got a second chance at life and I’m doing it right this time!” he says.